June Tabor, Huntingdon Hall, Worcester

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The Independent Culture

"Have a look at the CDs: there are quite a lot of them, as I'm rather old!" Experiencing a June Tabor concert is a bit like sitting on granny's knee. You head there for comfort and solace; for worldly wisdom, deeply instilled and bought at a cost; for the tribulations of love; a warning, too, of death's beckoning.

"Have a look at the CDs: there are quite a lot of them, as I'm rather old!" Experiencing a June Tabor concert is a bit like sitting on granny's knee. You head there for comfort and solace; for worldly wisdom, deeply instilled and bought at a cost; for the tribulations of love; a warning, too, of death's beckoning.

Tabor has been a folk legend for four decades. You leave her concerts enriched. She makes you feel - perhaps become - a better, fuller person. The glowing voice is deeper and darker now. The wit's still there: "I employ good lyric writers", she quips, as she delves into Chaucer for "St Valentine's Day" ("the day when every bird chooses a mate").

As in so much of John Playford's The Dancing Master - the landmark mid 17th-century folk collection that preserves our medieval song heritage - nature underlies. Death, too: Playford set up shop in 1647, a grim year. Soon Oliver Cromwell was in and maypoles pretty much out.

"Stay close to the ways of the rattlesnake", hisses the grandfather in her calling-card Native American ballad. Tabor herself does pretty much that. Just watch her in narrative or border ballad. She winds herself up like a steely medium to deliver, near breathless, the doomed sailor Patrick Spens, scanning white chargers on Aberdonian beaches.

Tabor does anger as well as pain: she lambastes the faithless lover who dares to venture "When you're not with me I'll love whom I please"; and in social terms, she's with the have-nots. Hughie Graeme may be the cruellest rustler among the violent Border Reivers ("our Wild West"); but in his tussle with the hang-'em-high Bishop of Carlisle's thugs, she ain't with the clerics.

This was a fabulous evening. Keyboardist Huw Warren has Tabor's measure: he can reach physically inside a keyboard and make it talk, even while strumming the ivories (the nervy, intestinal, plucked backup to the snaky Indian ditty was classic). Fiddler Mark Emerson is incapable - except idiomatically - of playing a note out of tune; and strums a fine accordion. Mark Lockheart can make a baritone or alto/soprano saxophone whine. In their hands, these instruments become passionate human beings, as surely as Tabor's plaintive voice does.

The heart misses most beats when Tabor intones alone. She and her fellow Silly Sister, Maddy Prior, have caught Hardyesque folk singers live. The torch has passed on - more genuine folk survival than mere folk revival. Tabor's witty folk parody of The Three Bears ("Me 'usband's got no porridge in him") is not just funny; it's emotion-jarring, like Spanish duende, or Portuguese fado.

Best of all, Tabor's poacher from a Sussex folk song - "a favourite of Gypsy singers": sly portamenti, sly appoggiaturas. Masterly. Europe's greatest folk survival may be the Yugoslav epic ballad. But they don't do it better than this.

Trinity Theatre, Tunbridge Wells (01892 678678) Saturday

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